Unlike a cream cake, sticky pudding or fancy meringue, travel cakes have to do what is says on the tin: be able to move smoothly from A to B and remain delicious. Why this type of "on-the-go", fuss-free dessert is here to stay and is surely becoming the new buzzword amongst pastry chefs and food businesses alike.
A fuss-free cake rooted in history
What the French elegantly refer to as a “gâteau de voyage”, the Brits might just call a nice slice of “teacake” or the Italians a “torta”. Admittedly, the French version sounds more refined and exciting, probably due to the cake’s regal history. In 17th century France, the Marquise de Sévigné would travel several times a year between Brittany and the Palace of Versailles; she asked her pastry chef to prepare cakes that could be stored over time and be easy to eat during the week-long journey.
Since then, many familiar cake favorites actually come under this “travel cake” umbrella term; think of the ubiquitous brownie, carrot cake and banana bread. They all share the same basic principles: staple store cupboard ingredients, a good shelf life of up to two weeks at room temperature, easy to cut, package and consume on the hop, good for sharing among a group, great for long journeys. No fuss, no cream, not too greasy or crumbly but definitely sweet, indulgent and delicious. The idea of a picnic, boat trip, train ride or car journey suddenly seems ridiculous without one. They make great snacks, and even better gifts.
A sure trend for pastry chefs and brands
The appeal of these ubiquitous treats surely did not go unnoticed amongst seasoned pastry chefs and brands around the world. Take globally acclaimed French pastry chef and Plaza Athénée alum Christophe Michalak and his revisited Sachertorte for Maison du Chocolat or famous Japanese chocolate master Susumu Koyama, "patisserie" chefs are betting on revisiting these nomadic creations.
The challenge? Adapting the staple recipes and tapping into their long-conservation, easy-to-carry qualities, while not compromising on creativity and using excellent, sometimes surprising ingredients. The now cult Ispahan Cake from Pierre Hermé is a perfect example of that: the traditional almond pound cake is elevated with Rose macaron biscuit, rose petal cream, whole raspberries, litchis. As per the brand's website's itself perfectly describes it: "More than a cake, this creation is sheer happiness. Bliss from the first bite." Capitalizing on the success the the original pound cake, the brand is now looking into variations of the Ispahan with a newly-launched Ispahan rum-baba.
As put by pastry chef Vinesh Johny, Co-founder and Chef at the Lavonne Cafe in Bangalore, India: "The Covid era has sure taught us all a lot. Off the many lessons learned, we can all be certain that delivery only/cloud kitchens are here to stay. Getting the food to the customer most effectively at its right temperature and minimal damage is what’s most critical for food businesses. Therefore, I’m certain that future desserts will have to be travel-friendly and portable such that, by the time your cake travels all the way from your restaurant to your customer, it’s still in one piece with its garnish unshaken. Travel-friendly/Portable/ Mobile/To-go Desserts will soon be the buzzword".
Simplicity & perfect execution
Meilleur Ouvrier de France in Pastry and Candy Making, Julien Boutonnet is no stranger to the trend and has been teaching "gateaux de voyage" techniques to countless student as a lecturer in practical arts at EHL. Conscious to pass on the endless potential at hand to his students, he even started a baking competition among Preparatory Year students to produce the most original recipe: the monthly "Bake Off" stimulates students to think creatively and with a workshop spirit to produce cakes that are both totally delicious and Instagrammable.
For Boutonnet, the beauty of the "gateau de voyage" relies in the simplicity of its execution - to bake these different cakes, it is unnecessary to use specific molds or materials. Perfect designs can be obtained by playing with different textures and layers: from biscuit to shortbread, adding a balanced combination of fruits and coulis and finishing it up with the perfect piping on top is what makes for a delicious, indulgent and timeless piece.
The Chef has recently embarked into sharing his wisdom and know-how with fellow pastry chefs during workshops dedicated to the trendy cakes: for two days niched in the scenic Swiss Alps, Boutonnet shares his experience and vision while developing and exploring various flavors with his students.